Tag Archives: US Army

Preparing to bid farewell to a family patriarch

This picture tells you plenty about a man I want to honor with this brief post.

He is James G. Phillips. He was my Uncle Jim. He was my mother’s baby brother who died this past weekend at the age of 93.

He was proud officer in the U.S. Army. Uncle Jim retired eventually from the Army Reserve as a colonel and in a few days he will be laid to rest at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Ore. I will be there to say goodbye to my beloved uncle. He will be afforded full military honors.

Uncle Jim suffered most recently from what I would argue is the most dreaded disease imaginable: Alzheimer’s disease. His body looked the same. The disease, though, stole this man’s essence. It took away his ability to tell a tale, to convey any segment of his wonderful, full life. He was as fluent in Greek as he was in English, which is to say he spoke both languages with absolute clarity, humor and intelligence.

I am likely to say something later about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, as I remain committed to calling attention to the need to devote more resources, more energy and more research into finding an ultimate cure for this murderous ailment.

For now, though, I just want to offer this brief comment about someone who stood large in my family. I know we all have ancestors who engender pride. You do as well as I do.

However, I will fight like hell to avoid getting sucked into a spasm of grief. As one of Uncle Jim’s daughters told me just the other day, our sadness in this instance will produce plenty of reasons to rejoice in the many happy memories we all have of this great man.

Attention, fellow Vietnam vets: Go back to where you served

A conversation I had this morning with a fellow member of the McKinney Sunrise Rotary Club brings to mind something I have believed for the past 30 years.

I believe it is vital for any Vietnam War veteran who is able to return to that country to see what I discovered when I was able to return there in 1989, two decades after I arrived there in service to my country.

I learned that the war had ended. It was over. The shooting had stopped. The country that had survived all that explosive bludgeoning has become a beautiful land full of generous people.

My Rotary friend had recalled a question I had asked a fellow who delivered a program at a recent meeting. I asked him if he had been back. He has not returned and the gentleman seemed a bit perplexed by the question.

I told my friend this morning about my emotional discovery when I returned there 30 years ago. I had gone to Southeast Asia with other editorial writers and editors on a factfinding mission. At the end of the official portion of the trip, I flew from Saigon to Da Nang with two fellow journalists — who also are Vietnam vets — to see the place where I served for a time so many years earlier.

Our guide, Mai, accompanied us to Da Nang. We took a cab from our downtown hotel to Marble Mountain, where I served for a time as an aircraft mechanic with the Army’s 245th Mohawk Aviation Company.

We were walking along the sandy soil. Mai told me how the Vietnamese had absorbed all that we had built there and repurposed it for their use. Pierced-steel planking had become fence material; they used lumber to build housing.

Then it hit me like a runaway freight train. The war was over! That’s when I broke down and sobbed like a child for about three or four minutes. My friends backed away, as did Mai. I cried all by myself.

Then it was over. I wiped my face dry. Took a deep breath. I extended my arms to my two friends and to Mai. I was cleansed. I had shed the emotional baggage I never realized I was lugging around.

I did not traipse through the bush. I did not fire my weapon in anger at the enemy. I performed rear-echelon duty. However, returning to that place in November 1989 reminded me that the war was raging when I arrive and it was raging when I left.

I saw that place in an entirely new context.

That is why I tell my fellow Vietnam War veterans that they, too, need to see the country is at it is today, not as it was when they left.

They, too, might be cleansed.

‘I prefer to eat with the men’

Take a gander at this lovely couple. They are my late uncle and aunt, Tom and Verna Kanelis. They played a big part in my life and in the lives of my wife and sons.

I am thinking of them this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may ask why. I will tell you.

They visited me once when I was a teenager stationed at a U.S. Army post far from home … for the first time, I should add. They made me feel “at home” on the other side of our vast nation.

I gave thanks to them in the moment for their presence in my life. I am doing so now.

It was Thanksgiving 1968. I had completed my Army basic training a month earlier in Fort Lewis, Wash. I got orders to report to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would attend aircraft maintenance school, learning how to service twin-engine OV-1 Mohawk airplanes.

Thanksgiving approached and we got word that we could invite anyone we wanted. I called Tom and Verna and invited them to join me for a holiday meal at Fort Eustis. They accepted. Here is where it gets so very pleasantly strange.

Tom was an Army colonel. He served as a staff officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. He was a decorated infantry officer, earning the Bronze Star with valor after seeing intense combat during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1943, then went to officers candidate school to earn his commission. He served heroically.

When he and Verna agreed to drive two hours south from D.C. to Fort Eustis, I added his name to the guest list, noting that it would include “Col. and Mrs. Tom Kanelis.”

The commanding officer of our training battalion was a lieutenant colonel. Someone on his staff noted that an active-duty “full bird colonel” was coming and Lt. Col. Wolfe wanted to make sure Col. and Mrs. Kanelis were treated, well, accordingly.

Understand that I am watching all this through the eyes of a late-stage teenager. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I was far from my home in Portland, Ore. I was preparing to learn an Army skill for which I had no experience. I might be headed to war in Vietnam. I was nervous.

My uncle and aunt arrived on Thanksgiving for dinner. I greeted them as they approached the mess hall. We went inside. Lt. Col. Wolfe greeted Col. and Mrs. Kanelis and damn near tripped over himself trying to ensure that Col. Kanelis and his wife were welcome and comfortable. I watched from nearby and could barely contain the urge to bust out laughing.

Then came the question from Lt. Col. Wolfe: “Would you like to eat in the officers’ mess or with the men.” Tom didn’t blink, flinch or hesitate. “I prefer to eat with the men.”

I knew precisely in that moment what Tom had in mind. He did not want to expose me to ridicule from my enlisted colleagues that I was getting preferred treatment just because I happened to be related to someone who outranked the battalion CO.

We had our meal. I enjoyed the company of two people I loved very much. They made my first Thanksgiving away from home one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

They’re both gone now. I miss them terribly. As for Lt. Col. Wolfe, I don’t recall ever discussing that day with him during my time at Fort Eustis. I hope he appreciated the self-control I demonstrated by not laughing out loud at what I witnessed.

Lt. Col. Vindman is entitled to wear his uniform whenever he wishes

Simply astonishing.

That’s my first reaction to questions raised today during Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman sat before the panel in his Army dress blue uniform. It then fell to a Republican member of the committee, Chris Stewart of Utah, to ask why he wore what was “not the uniform of the day.”

Vindman works on the National Security Council. He is an active-duty Army officer. He wears a civilian suit to work … usually. He chose to wear his uniform today, I suppose, because he thought it would be proper for him to wear the attire he is entitled to wear as a commissioned officer.

I want to mention this because other NSC officials have testified before Congress in their military uniform. One is most notable, as Roll Call notes: Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, who sat before Congress during his testimony into the Iran-Contra matter of 1987. Did anyone raise a ruckus then? I do not recall it.

Moreover, other active-duty officers have worn their uniforms while at work in the federal government. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump, being one of them.

Vindman  was in Congress today to testify about what he heard during that infamous phone call with Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that has prompted the impeachment inquiry against the president. He said some important things today and made some important assertions.

So, let’s not get sidetracked by something as ridiculous as whether an Army field-grade officer is entitled to wear his dress uniform.

Of course he is!

Secretary of state: derelict in his duty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought a lot of heft to his post as the nation’s top diplomat: top of his class at West Point; active-duty Army service; member of Congress; CIA director.

It’s the West Point chapter in his life that gives me concern, though, but not because I intend to disparage his academic record at the nation’s Military Academy.

Pompeo has violated a fundamental tenet of service in the military. One of the individuals under his command as secretary of state, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, has seen her record smeared by the president of the United States.

Did the secretary of state stand up for her? Did he have her back? Has he vouched for her honor and affirmed that she isn’t “bad news,” as Trump has described her? Has he affirmed his support for her gallant service to the country over he past three decades? No. He has allowed the president to run roughshod over her.

Yovanovitch testified this past week before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, which is overseeing the impeachment inquiry process launched against the president. While she was in the middle of her testimony, Trump decided to fire off a Twitter message that denigrated her service and — in the minds of many observers — contained a threat to her and others who might be so inclined to cooperate with House congressional questioners.

Why in the world has the nation’s top diplomat, the secretary of state, allowed this defamation to continue against one of the individuals under his command? Secretary of State Pompeo has been a profile in cowardice.

The president says he is entitled to express himself. Actually, what Donald Trump doesn’t grasp is the gravity of any statement he makes as the nation’s chief executive, as its head of state. Mike Pompeo surely should understand what has gone over the president’s head and he surely should have stood foursquare behind a highly honored and decorated diplomat, such as Marie Yovanovitch.

He didn’t. Pompeo choked. He disgraced himself as well as the long-standing tradition he brought to his high office.

Space Force: It’s back and it’s still a dumb idea

I cannot believe they’re talking yet again about forming another military branch, this one based in outer space.

On second thought, yes I can believe it.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is pitching the goofy idea one more time. He says we need a “space force” to protect us against pirates who’ll attack us from beyond our atmosphere.

Oh, please help me. Give me strength.

How many times must we say this? The United States already has a military branch — several of them, actually — committed to defending us from outer space attack.

The U.S. Air Force has a Space Command led by a four-star general. The U.S. Navy also has dedicated qualified personnel to monitor the great beyond from ships at sea as well as at naval air stations positioned around the world. The U.S. Army has long deployed units committed to high-tech air defenses.

What in the world are talking about here?

The proposed U.S. Space Force is redundant. It is duplicative of tasks already being done.

The Space Force idea does have its fans. Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX guru, is all in. “It’s cool,” he said, to have a Space Force, noting that they scoffed in the 1940s when the Air Force was split off from the Army.

Donald Trump wants to create this force as a national security matter. He signed a directive calling for additional study of the issue.

Whatever. A Space Force is still a nutty notion.

We do not need to form yet another military service branch. I’m tellin’ ya, the military we have on duty at this time — the most potent fighting force in human history — is quite capable of defending us against space pirates.

Central Command not consulted? Well, what’s new?

I guess none of us should be surprised to hear this bit of news from near the very top of the U.S. military chain of command.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commanding officer of the nation’s Central Command — which has authority over deployment of personnel in the Middle East — told Congress that Donald Trump didn’t consult with him before announcing his decision to withdraw our forces from Syria.

The president, though, did declare the Islamic State to be “defeated badly,” which was his seat-of-the-pants justification for leaving Syria and turning the fight over to . . . Syrian resistance forces.

The non-surprise comes in the form of those idiotic 2016 presidential campaign boasts that Trump made. He told us he was the smartest man in human history, that he knew the “best words,” had the “best mind,” would surround himself with the “best people” and, here’s my favorite, how he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”

Trump knows all

The tragedy of it is that the Republican presidential candidate persuaded just enough voters living in just the right states to score an Electoral College victory to be elected the 45th president of the United States.

So he now gets to govern without consulting the “best people” who ought to include Gen. Votel, a combat Army veteran with vast knowledge of the Islamic State and the threat it still poses in the region and around the world.

According to Time.com: When Trump announced his decision to pullout on Dec. 19, it sent shock waves through Washington and the rest of the world. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won.” 

But did we? ISIS has claimed responsibility for terror attacks after the announcement, suggesting to many of us that the Sunni Muslim terror outfit isn’t “defeated.”

However, Donald Trump is wired to be all-knowing all the time, or so he would have us believe.

Except that I don’t believe a single word that flies out of his mouth.

I call this ‘devotion to duty’

This picture says it all for me. It is not a statue. It is a living, breathing U.S. Army soldier. He is standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery.

Yep, it is snowing. It is bitterly cold. But there he is, along with the rest of the garrison assigned to stand watch over one of our nation’s most sacred memorials.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott posted this picture on Facebook. I share it here to join the governor in saluting these men — indeed, the rest of our military force. “God bless our military,” Gov. Abbott said.

One more quick point: These men are assigned to perform this intensely precise duty in addition to their regular duties while stationed with the 3rd Army Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer, Va. They do not perform this duty exclusively. Their infantry unit is required to maintain its fitness for combat duty in the event that they would get such an order from the commander in chief.

They stand their watch at the Tomb of the Unknown — no matter what!

The clown show is getting even more bizarre

That astonishing sideshow that commenced today in the Cabinet Room of the White House left me fairly speechless.

Why? Because there is too much on which to comment. Donald Trump’s non-stop riff covering the government shutdown, The Wall, the military, James Mattis’ resignation/firing, and God knows what else has left many of us out here grasping for something on which to analyze.

I’ll go with two items that jumped out at me.

Trump said, “I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” Well, Mr. President, you had your chance back in the 1960s. While many of us were answering the call to duty during the Vietnam War, young Donald Trump received (cough, cough!) medical deferments associated with, um, bone spurs.

I had flat feet in 1968, which I always thought was a disqualifier. The U.S. Army induction center in Portland, Ore., didn’t accept that idea. So . . .  off I went.

The future president got five deferments. The New York Times recently revealed that the circumstances of those deferments were at best questionable, that the doctor who “diagnosed” the bone spurs allegedly did so as a favor to young Donald’s father, Fred. Thus, I won’t buy into his goofy notion about how good a general he would have been.

Then he said this about James Mattis, the now-former secretary of defense. “What did I get out of” his service? “Not much,” Trump said.

OK. Let’s see. The oath that Mattis took was to protect the country, to serve the country, to defend the Constitution. He did not swear an oath to serve the president. He did not declare his adherence to the individual who nominated him to run the Pentagon.

Then the president said he “essentially” fired the defense secretary.

Right there is yet another demonstration from Donald Trump that this individual does not understand the true meaning of public service. He has shown one more time how patently unfit he is to serve as commander in chief of the finest military apparatus the world has ever seen.

Welcome to America . . . just bring your gas mask

You’re a refugee fleeing repression in a Latin American country. You trek to the southern border of the Land of Opportunity. You and your kids, maybe with your elderly parents, are greeted by U.S. Army soldiers and Marines.

Then you get gassed. Those troops deployed by the commander in chief are under orders to prevent everyone from entering the United States. One way to keep you out is to gas you.

This is no way, none at all, to manage the border. It is no way to prevent illegal immigration. The refugees who are seeking safe harbor from the tyrants who run their countries back “home” deserve something far better, more kind than what they’re receiving.

I have tasted tear gas. It got my snootful twice while training at Fort Lewis, Wash., in the summer and fall of 1968 in the U.S. Army. It really and truly sucks, man. The second douse came while I was low-crawling under barbed wire. Our sergeants popped a nausea agent. Yep . . . I puked!

This is how we intend to “greet” those who seek protection from those who would do them harm. Wow! I never would have thought I would see this happening in our country.

Appalling!